Basic Introduction to Game Design

Introduction and Course Syllabus

Cite this article as: Lennart Nacke. (September 4, 2014). Introduction and Course Syllabus. The Acagamic. Retrieved January 23, 2021, from

Welcome to the class: Basic Introduction to Game Design. My name is Dr. Lennart Nacke. I help people understand how to design and evaluate games. I am teaching this class in the Fall 2014 at UOIT (INFR 1330). Today, I am going to show you how this course works and how you are going to benefit from the information that I can provide to you.

“Anything is only as good as you make it and nothing is going to be easy.” (Kate Beaton)

Evoland Screenshot

Evoland (Shiro Games, 2013). In-Game Screenshot.

If you are reading this, you probably already know that game design is important for developing games, but did you know that there is no formal way to teach game design, yet? Other game development disciplines like art or programming have a more formalised curriculum, because their outcomes are visible and, therefore, easier to critique. We can easily point out errors (or bugs) in a computer program and critique artwork (at least on a superficial level). However, design is much harder to grasp. We often say that a game is not fun, but do we really know what that means? After all, many games require learning complex procedural sequences and involve many tactical considerations to be truly fun, for example: Minecraft (Mojang AB, 2011) and Dota 2 (Valve Corporation, 2013). In this course, we are going to find out what it means to design games.

Dota 2 Tutorial

Dota 2 (Valve Corporation, 2013). Tutorial Screenshot.

To sum up, we are going to discuss five points today that are important in this class. If you are enrolled at UOIT, this is critical information for you to proceed as an undergraduate student in our Game Development and Entrepreneurship program. If you are a just a visitor on this blog, I hope you enjoy the read as we go forward with course content.

  1. Course dates and times
  2. How a flipped classroom works
  3. What topics we are going to cover
  4. How you are going to be able to evaluate your work in this class
  5. What the general rules and guidelines for this course are

You are probably already aware that there are many problems with traditional lectures at Universities. Given that we have access to many new technologies, it sometimes feels like we are stuck in a very traditional learning structure in higher education. In the past three years, I have taught introductory courses in game design using different styles ranging from pure exercise-based active learning to strong gamification. This year is the first year that I am trying it with a flipped (open) classroom model that blends a little bit of gamification and lots of active learning into the mix. We will explain more about what this means for you as a student in this class below. I am not the first to offer online sections of a game design course and I am very thankful to Ian Schreiber for his game design concepts course and to the open materials available from Game Design instructors such as Eric Zimmerman, which have helped me shape my courses tremendously in the past. I see this open part of my course a little bit as giving back to the game design community and I hope that it is useful.


Quantum. A strategy board game by Eric Zimmerman (FunForge, 2013).

In this course, we explore the fundamentals of game design. We will be creating several non-digital (not computer) games. This is important for understanding the very basic concepts that go into a game and to sharpen our understanding of games by critiquing them. While you may not feel that all the information is relevant to digital game development, rest assured that all games share fundamentals that allow game designers to work in any medium to create games. We will discuss some digital games in our learning materials as well.

The topics of the week and the in-class exercises are designed to give you a broad theoretical, analytical and conceptual understanding of game design. Our goal is to understand what makes a game and then go about creating games. As a game designer, students need to provide information to players about the content of their game, about how to play it (the things they need to do to progress in the game and the rules), and about the winning conditions. Students need to motivate people to play their games in the first place. Players need to feel empowered by the choices offered by their game and designing a game is essentially about designing meaningful and interesting choices for players. You are expected to create several smaller non-digital games throughout the course if you are enrolled in it at UOIT.

Course dates and times

As part of our flipped classroom model, the lecture content will be available online before our in-class meetings, which will happen every Thursday from 12:40pm to 2:00pm in the Simcoe building in room J102. We will use this in-class time for activities and exercises related to our topic of the week that will be discussed below. Research shows that active learning is beneficial if students have read the material for class before and come to the lecture prepared. To make things a little easier for you, we will have an Adobe Connect room ready for questions and feedback our the learning material on Tuesdays, 9:40 am – 11:00 am. Should you ever have additional questions, please check my email FAQ first. I am available in my office on Thursdays right after class for in person consultation and office hours if you should need to meet. Your TA for this course will be Rina Wehbe and she will be happy to answer your questions via email or in person as well.

Chroma Squad

Chroma Squad Demo at GDC. Behold Studios (2014).

The flipped classroom

I will make each topic of the week available by Friday evening the week before. The topic of the week will be made available to you as a blog post via, where I will prepare all the content that you need to know for the respective week. This will include book chapters from your textbook, which will absolutely need to be read before participating in class on Thursdays. For some topics, embedded videos will be available on the blog as well (possibly as links) and will need to be watched. Most of the content is written and you will need to read the content before class to be well prepared. The content is linked from Blackboard as well at The Blackboard website provides online access to additional course materials, videos, and additional reading/playing materials that are all relevant to this class in addition to this blog.

During our allocated in-class time (every Thursday 12:40 pm – 2:00 pm), we will engage in hands-on exercises about the topic of the week. You will need to have the theoretical understanding from the online materials for the topic of the week before coming to class. Participation is an important aspect of this class, and everyone is expected to engage in discussion and work with their classmates.

The course will allow you to gather experience points (XP) to level up (i.e., get a better grade in the end). XP come from (1) class participation, (2) quizzes, (3) assignments, (4) the written midterm test and (5) the Game Development Workshop (GDW) design document and prototype.

Topics of the course

Currently our weekly topics are following closely from our textbooks:

  1. Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton. ISBN-10: 1482217163. Don’t get the Kindle version!
  2. Challenges for Game Designers by Brenda Brathwaite (now: Romero) and Ian Schreiber. ISBN-10: 158450580X.
Lecture # Topic of the week (Online) Exercises (In-Class)
Lecture 1 Introduction to the Class, Role of the Game Designer Become a Tester, Game Journal, Your first board game
Lecture 2 Formal elements of games Game Modification of a broken game. Make it meaningful for players.
Lecture 3 Dramatic elements of games and Narrative Design Narrative Game. Represent story procedurally in a game.
Lecture 4 System dynamics Pitch your games. Students will have to publicly pitch their GDW games in a brief presentation
Lecture 5 Challenge, Skill and Chance Fog of Strategy
Lecture 6 Conceptualization Write a treatment
Lecture 7 Communication Digital Game Concept Document First Draft
Lecture 8 Social play Social and Emotional Game Prototype
Lecture 9 Games as culture Intervention Game: Change the lives of your players
Lecture 10 Game economies Black Friday, the board game
Lecture 11 Level design and properties of living things Design Doc
Lecture 12 Functionality, Completeness and Balance Design Doc
Lecture 13 Simple Playtesting and Quality Assurance Design Doc and Test Reports
GDW Final Grade GDW Prototype and GDW Design Doc

How will I evaluate you?

Each lecture topic of the week has an assignment attached to it. Assignments are due in the following week in the tutorials. There is a total of 13 assignments in this course, each valued at 45XP.

Each topic of the week has one in-class session attached to it. Class attendance is checked and worth 30XP in each of the 13 classes.

Each week (of 13) has a quiz attached to it. Each quiz is worth a total of 40 XP. You can only take the quizzes in sequence.

The course has a written Midterm Exam worth 705 XP.

This course is part of the first year Game Development Workshop. As part of the GDW, you can receive up to 800 XP from the GDW portion in this course. Your final GDW grade for this term (a percentage) will be applied to the 800 XP. For example, if you get a grade of A- or 80% in your GDW, this is equal to 640 XP, which will factor into your total XP amount for this class. A breakdown of coursework and total associated XP is shown below:

Course Work XP Percent of Grade
Assignments 585 19.5%
Attendance 390 13.0%
Quizzes 520 17.3%
Midterm 705 23.5%
GDW 800 26.7%

Part of receiving XP in this course, is leveling up. Each level corresponds to a grade and you can level up to level 10 or an A+ at the very end of this course. This is a very lightweight form (and criticizable) form of gamification.

Level XP Rank Grade
10 3000 Game Design Hero A+
9 2700 Game Design General A
8 2400 Game Design Vice General A-
7 2100 Design Commodore B+
6 1900 Design Colonel B
5 1700 Design Captain B-
4 1600 Player Lieutenant C+
3 1500 Analyst C
2 1200 Evaluator D
1 0 Newcomer F

Where do I find things on Blackboard?

First, you need to connect to the UOIT Blackboard website. Login with your 100… student number and it will show you a couple of classes available. Select the following from the list:

Basic Intro. to Game Design - 43631.201409-INFR-1330U-001


When you are in the blackboard for this course, you see a left menu, where you can select “Content,” this will bring you to a view of different folders, such as “Topics of the Week” and “Helpful materials.” Here you select the topics of the week folder, where I will create several subfolders for all the following weeks. Each folder contains the materials needed for that week, so you can easily keep all the information organized by week. This blogpost is linked from there and all future blogposts will be linked in the folders of the week. As a basic concept, Blackboard is your starting point for all the material necessary for this course. However, keep in mind that blog posts may contain links to more material related to the topics of each week.

Rules and general guidelines for class

  • Cell phones must be turned off during lectures. If you forget to turn off your cell phone and it rings during class, I reserve the right answer it.
  • Any course-related questions should be directed to the Blackboard discussion boards or Twitter (using the #i1330 hashtag) so that all students can benefit from the answers. Students are encouraged to discuss with and answer one another’s questions.
  • Lecture notes are not a substitute for class attendance. Attend class and watch the videos to ensure that you have received and understand the material. If you are not sure about anything, please make an appointment with me early or come to my office hours. If you never ask, I will not be able to help you.
  • Emails regarding an assignment received within 24 hours of the assignment due date will not be answered; it is your responsibility to start your assignments early. Emails not sent from your account will remain unanswered!
  • Do not interrupt class mates. If you arrive late or need to leave early, please sit near the back.
  • You should only use your laptop in a way that makes you more productive in class or allows you to participate in enhanced learning activities. Disruptive laptop use (gaming, coding, other class work, etc.) will not be tolerated.
  • Sometimes you will be asked to close your laptop for class activities. You must follow this advice without exceptions.

After reading this blog post I recommend reading your course syllabus in Blackboard, which has even more detailed information and instructions regarding what to do in certain situations in this course. Now, you are all ready to start.

Slide from Presentation

Twitter exercise from the in-class presentation. I opted for the in-class selfie below.

Finally some feedback that came in via Twitter about the XP grade system from one of the students.

It remains to be seen how much all students in the class will like the grading as exercises are being handed out. Good luck to everyone as we move forward.


7 thoughts on “Introduction and Course Syllabus

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